The Desert Sleuths were supposed to appear at the Velma Teague Library on Saturday, but, because the electricity was off for three hours, we moved to Plan B, and moved the group to a meeting room next door. Thirteen members of Desert Sleuths, the Arizona Chapter of Sisters in Crime, showed up to promote their new mystery anthology, SoWest, So Wild. Roni Olson, president of the group, moderated the program.
Roni kicked off the program saying Desert Sleuths is the state-wide Sisters in Crime chapter for Arizona. Sisters in Crime was started twenty-five years ago to promote the work of women crime writers. Sara Paretsky and the other founders saw a discrepancy in the treatment of female writers. Today, the group consists of authors, readers, and people who love both.
Then, Roni asked each author to just do a short introduction for their stories. She started with CR Bolinski, author of “A Tumbleweed Mystery.” Carole said she knew her story had to be set outside, with lots of tumbleweed. SoWest, So Wild was perfect for that setting.
|CR Bolinski and Susan Buadavari|
Susan Budavari’s story is “The Danger of Impulse Shopping.” It’s about a woman who stops at a convenience store, a divorced woman at a time a serial killer was loose. Susan said when the Baseline Killer was in Phoenix, she had a number of friends who were afraid to go to various parts of the city. They might expose the next serial killer.
Howard “Doc” Carron wrote “Moshe Goes to Arizona.” It’s about a cattle drive. Doc grew up in New York, and he had already written westerns, so he had some experience with the background. His story is set in the 1880s. It was originally set in Wyoming, because Carron was familiar with Wyoming, but the editors gently suggested he move it to Arizona.
|Howard "Doc" Carron and Leslie Kohler|
Leslie Kohler’s story is “Shadow of Darkness,” about an escapee from Folsom Prison. Kohler grew up close to Folsom Prison. She could see the guards in the turrets, with their rifles. She and her family shopped at the prison gift shop. Her father had toured it, but, at time, women couldn’t tour Folsom Prison. Since then, her sister has worked for the prison system, and has been in prisons all over. Folsom Prison is no longer a maximum security prison; it’s a medium prison. And, the area where Kohler grew up, is now filled with million dollar homes. Leslie did say if you’re going to live near a prison, it’s best to live near a maximum security one, because the prisoners rarely escape.
Does Merle McCann's title, "Murder at Rocking Witches Ranch," sound as if it's about French grape growing stock in Arizona? Merle usually writes historical fiction. The story is based on historical fact, facts that McCann uncovered through a circuitous route. Email from someone about the Jerome Winery gave her the best clue. It mentioned mission grapes. The Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Brownsville, Texas, was built in 1850, ten years after the Civil War. Winemaking nuns accompanied a Frenchman there. Then, the Church as named a Cathedral in 1874. McCann knew she could do something with this material.
|Merle McCann and Toni Niesen|
Toni Niesen was asked about calendar sticks since her story is, "A Pair of Calendar Sticks." She said she first became interested in them when she was working with the Salt Water Pima, and they called their resort "Talking Sticks." She said calendar sticks are historical, but there wasn't a lot written about them that was accessible. Then, she found information written by Frank Russell who studied the Pimas in the early 1900s. That information, along with information from Arizona Highways led to her story with calendar sticks and a water theme.
Amy Schuster's "Fowl Play" is set at a clown college. Why a clown college? She told us she's always been drawn to the absurd.
|Deborah J. Ledford and Roni Olson|
Deborah J. Ledford is one of the editors of SoWest, So Wild. Her story is, "A Tombstone Epitaph." Roni asked her about that, saying Deborah normally doesn't write period pieces. Deb said she never does, but, with the theme, she thought she should, and she expected to have all kinds of period pieces. Instead, hers was the only entry about the Old West.
|Roni Olson and Virginia Nosky|
Virginia Nosky's "All Four One" asks if identical quadruplets can get away with murder. Virginia told us if it was a perfect crime, no one would no about it. But, this one offers a perfect crime, with a perfect alibi. Four gorgeous sisters set out to murder their nasty stepfather.
In Nancy Newcomer's "Coyote's Bones," a coyote digs up bones in a backyard, human bones. Nancy told us it's based on her own experience. In the '90s, she moved to Fountain Hills. Her backyard ended in a wash, and there was lots of wildlife. One day, she looked outside her back window, and there was a coyote out there digging in the dirt. He dug up a bone, probably a rabbit leg. Nancy changed that in her story, and it became a human bone.
|Nancy Newcomer, Judy Starbuck and JoAnne Zeterberg|
In JoAnne Zeterberg's "Ghost in the Rocks," a medicine man is held at gunpoint. JoAnne said she starts with characters, and puts them in inopportune moments. She was lucky enough to camp with a Navajo family once, and the man described his uncle, a medicine man.
Roni asked them why they write mysteries. Deborah Ledford answered, "They're the ultimate escape." Doc Carron said it's good and evil. He told us he often has a solution that the law wouldn't take care of, but justice is different than law. He said during the Depression movies flourished. People needed a break. Now, they do it with books. Virginia Nosky said it's fun to put yourself in the situation. Could you have done it better?
One audience member asked if their anthologies were available on Kindle. She's in a book group, and they all use Kindles. Ledford answered that they're in the process of making them available. However, some of the authors have their own books available on Kindle. Leslie Kohler is the author of Sins of the Border. Deborah J. Ledford has written Staccato and the Hillerman Sky Award Nominee, Snare. The Fall From Paradise Valley is Virginia Nosky's book.
Merle McCann told the audience that four or five of the stories from How Not to Survive a Vacation are available online through ipulp fiction.
There have been three anthologies published by Desert Sleuths. The first was How Not to Survive the Holidays. Then came How Not to Survive a Vacation. SoWest, So Wild shows that the West is still wild. The stories are all set in the Southwest, most in Arizona. It's a diverse collection.
Roni's next question involved setting. Howard Carron's stories are all based on places where he's been. One third of his life was spent overseas. He had to do research to write this one, set in Arizona. But, he's a reference librarian, and enjoys doing research. He wants to have it accurate. Orthodox Jews eat kosher food. They can't work on Saturday. This became a problem for Moshe, his character, who was on a cattle drive. There's interest in expanding Moshe's adventures to a novel, so Doc is doing more research. He's probably going to set it in Wyoming, though, not Arizona. He's familiar with the Jews in Brooklyn. He learned there were 75 Jewish families in Cheyenne in the 1880s. That leaves opportunities for Moshe. Research is key.
Leslie Kohler's story is told from the perspective of a young girl. She knows that from her own life. But, she didn't know Folsom Prison was built to provide labor for Folsom Dam so a wealthy logger could bring his logs down by river.
Carol said Arizona is a big part of her writing. She lives outside Prescott in Chino Valley. Her neighbors are gophers, rattlesnakes, cows, coyotes. They all interest her. She wanted to use tumbleweed in this story because there was so much tumbleweed up north. Roads were closed, and tumbleweed was all over. It became an issue, and the mayor asked people to take the tumbleweed away and burn it. It became funny. So she wanted to use it as a basis of a story.
Judy Starbuck has six short stories in anthologies. Some are set in places where she's never been, but places that interested her. She's fascinated by setting. Her story is based on Patagonia, a place that has birdwatchers, drug dealers, tourists.
Virginia Nosky would like to go back to using Arizona as a setting. There's so much here, desert, mountains. And, everything is harsh, weather, the heat. There's snow and cold. Everything bites or scratches. Setting is almost a character in Nosky's books.
Merle McCann said it's convenient to use Arizona. Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff represent the metropolis. But, there are huge horse ranches, dog shows. There's a great deal of animal activities here. Washes are used in Scottsdale, and wild animals are found in suburban and urban communities. There are javelina, bobcats, and there was a mountain lion sighted in McCann's neighborhood recently.
The final question of the day related to work habits. Roni said their writing conference in August featured this topic. She said everyone has different habits. She's just settling in to write 2000 words a day. But, it's important for writers to get in a chair and get their fingers moving every day.
And, Leslie said she often leaves the house, and tries to avoid online distractions.
Howard summed it up, though, agreeing with Roni Olson. The key is to write every day.
Actually, though, I ended the program. I brought out the celebratory cake. I had a special cake made at Shelly's Bakery in downtown Glendale. It was done in the colors from SoWest, So Wild and featured the same weapons on the cake. It celebrated the 25th anniversary of Sisters in Crime with a "25" under a magnifying glass. And, everything on the beautiful cake was edible. Thank you, Shelly!
SoWest, So Wild by Desert Sleuths. DS Publishing. ©2011. ISBN 9780982877418 (paperback), 209p.